What is Bean-to-Bar?

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Bean-to-Bar is a chocolate-making process whereby the manufacturer controls every step of the production, from selection of the cocoa bean to moulding of the chocolate bar.

The term bean-to-bar first appeared in the USA in the 2000s with the creation of independent micro factories. Then, around 2010, bean-to-bar chocolate making experienced a real boom with the availability of the first smaller, more economical machines.

Each piece of bean-to-bar chocolate has a unique history - there are as many bean-to-bar philosophies as there are manufacturers. Almost all, however, commit to providing a healthier product of higher quality. Distancing itself from the mass production chocolate industry, the bean-to-bar process is often associated with craft chocolate companies that made a commitment to not using chemicals or additives that many large scale producers use to accelerate the manufacturing process. It also affords producers greater control over the supply chain to ensure fair and humane business practices. This is particularly important as some cocoa production has been known to pay low wages to farmers and their workers, in addition to the use of child or forced labour.

Similar to other small-batch food, bean-to-bar chocolate tends to be more expensive than the mass-produced alternatives. However, this price ensures not only a better product made from superior ingredients, but also cleaner, fairer and more sustainable supply chain, which is precisely what our customers are looking for – consuming less, better.

In Brazil, bean-to-bar chocolate making has experienced a real boom in recent years. Besides having a huge market that can support the demand for such products, it also has numerous cacao producers seeking to supplying quality cacao for better remuneration, working directly with the chocolate maker in the search of the perfect flavour. The size of the sector has also allowed a few machine manufacturers to make available key components precisely adapted to the investment of newcomers most being trained through the many courses available or the help of fellow producers, creating a real sense of a “bean to bar” community.

In the US, bean-to-bar has already become competitive, no longer relying on simply making 70% chocolate bars but elaborating new recipes that combine with the know-how of Chocolatiers. Quickly narrowing the gap, Brazil is expected to become one of the most competitive bean-to-bar markets worldwide.

What are the steps in the Bean-to-Bar process?

1

Selecting the best beans

Making an artisanal chocolate from the bean means first of all working with beans that have been carefully fermented and then dried in their country of origin. The particularity of the bean-to-bar process is the ability to work with small quantities, to have direct contact with the farmer, to understand his fermentation process but also the genetics of cocoa, so that you know how to best sublimate the product in the rest of the production.

Some beans may be too small, too flat, germinated, others become stuck together during drying or simply broken during the opening of the pod or during transit. Before roasting, it is therefore necessary to sort all the beans by hand to put these unwanted beans – that may give affect the flavour of the finished product – aside.

2

Roasting

Roasting is a crucial step in the artisanal bean-to-bar process, from which the chocolatier will give a unique personality and taste to his chocolate. It is during this stage that the flavour indicators created during fermentation will turn into aromas. There are thousands of these specific to each bean and their terroir. For each of these origins, it is important to test the roasting profiles before selecting the one that best reveals the fruity, chocolatey aromas of each bean.

Like coffee, cacao can be roasted in a coffee roaster, although at a much lower temperature. In order to conserve more of the flavours of our cacao, we found it best to work with a bakery oven that allows greater control and more even distribution of the temperature.

3

Crushing and winnowing beans

Once the beans are roasted, they are crushed and the husk has to be separated from the rest of the bean. This can be done in many ways, by hand using a hairdryer or vacuum or with specific machines created for industrial-size production. The principle remains the same: separation caused by the difference in weight between the two crucial elements: on one side, the shells and on the other, the crushed kernels – or nibs.

4

Grinding and Conching

The chocolate-making process can be carried out in several ways, from the manual grinder typical of local production in Mexico to the use of a ball mill and conching machines. These processes will impact not only the texture, but also the taste. Like most bean-to-bar manufacturers, we decided on using a melangeur, a large vessel in which heavy granite rollers circle for hours, breaking down the nibs and sugar into a raw paste.

5

Chocolate maturation

As with wine or many other fermented products, the maturation process of cacao can be important to harmonise and balance its flavours and aromas. A small number of manufacturers decide to pour the chocolate into 4-5kg bricks, package it up to avoid contact with air and light and store for several months at room temperature. During this maturation phase, the chocolate will evolve and cocoa butter will migrate and restructure itself. This will allow the tannins at the origin of many aromas to better themselves, while others will disappear. Overall, the chocolate will gain in roundness and harmony.

6

Tempering and moulding

Cocoa butter is both exciting and complex. It has five crystal shapes, only one of which will give the chocolate its shiny appearance, its crunch and its stability over temperature and time. The tempering process allows this to be achieved by passing the chocolate through a very precise temperature cycle, depending on the type of chocolate and the cocoa butter content. Like conservation, this process is particularly challenging in hot countries, as it can be affected by humidity or high temperature. Badly tempered chocolate isn’t bad in itself, but is much less visually appealing. Then the final step: each tablet is shaped and then delicately packaged by hand.

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